An Eternal Sunset… False Starts and Spare Parts


Hotel room... Do I tell her I'm thinking of another the sky the season
Give me a reason
The choices
Under a big big sky
Would you pass me on the street without saying hi or bye. Nothing at all. Narrow road to the deep north
Aggressively romantic
A wider perspective
A voice further away
Once removed
Time zones
Daylight dieing
Copper mining
Carpet bombing
Not all of me is here
Never fully in one place
A part of me in Montana
Pieces still there
Pledge to be present
Blowdry hair behind the bathroom door
Coal train
Why don't I have the right to walk away
Why can't i
How can you


Dear Dorothea,

How dumb is it to mourn a relationship that never quite materialized? We became friends years ago, sharing books and movies (he said he didn’t read women back then, I took it as a personal challenge to change his mind and I did), but the timing for anything else never worked out. We both moved abroad and back home at different times, and I left the city for my hometown during the pandemic. He recently left the country again to study, while I am trying to get my writing career off the ground. We’re still friends and we still talk regularly, but I do think it might be time to move on and give up on this thing that never worked out.

I’m sad and melancholic, and have always used books as a way to process my feelings. Can you think of something that is as melancholic as it is hopeful? I’d love to read myself out of this weird feeling.

Kind of Stuck


Dear Kind of Stuck,

It is never dumb to mourn a relationship that never quite materialized! In fact, those are sometimes the hardest to let go of, because they exist in this ethereal space—a realm of infinite possibilities and what-ifs. It’s easy to romanticize them without reality creeping in to ground you. That dream of that relationship exists on a pedestal.

Also, it’s worth noting that you’re not just letting go of this thing; you’re mourning the version of yourself that could have bloomed in it. That’s not an easy thing to say goodbye to.

A writer you might enjoy—one who never shies away from feeling and earnest and honest explorations of love and heartache—is Jeanette Winterson. When you’re in the throes of romantic entanglements, she’s the one to call upon. For your situation, I’d recommend The PowerBook, which is about a romantic named Ali who will write epic love stories on email to anyone who requests one. But participants beware: the story might change you. Ali has a tendency to appear in these stories, too—steadfast in the belief that you can be the hero of your own story—and The PowerBook ends up being a wild ride through myth and and history, with characters meeting and re-meeting and falling in and out of love in various incarnations. It explores the flimsy line between reality and imagination. (Sometimes the things we think up are even more real and true than what’s actually happened.) It’s a story of love lost, yes, but also of reinvention.

Much luck and love to you,


“I was never quite a whole man,” Eliot wrote to Hale. “The agony forced some genuine poetry out of me, certainly, which I would never have written if I had been happy: in that respect, perhaps, I may be said to have had the life I needed.”

An autumn half moon
Through the clouds - new clouds now, still, the same I saw before.
Half moon, silver and shadow.
Which is the way forward? Which path to follow, sister moon?
I wander in the dark.
In the distance the sound of waves breaking and wood being chopped. Split from the whole.

Full moon rises over the trees.
Venus shines her alluring eyes. Blurred by misty clouds but still pulling tides. Here's your moonbeam illuminating. Your path realized. Then denied. What were all those dreams you had? So easy to leave behind. Walked away from who you really wanted to find. Went home to remodel your kitchen, deaf, dumb and blind.
That split the difference.

New moon descending.
These phases, orbits, nights neverending. Split in two, with nothing left to do except pretend we wanted it this way. I stare at the sky, stars and moon. Wondering if you do, too. Send thoughts of you into the aether, hope, may gods of love deliver. See the path cut by the moon, half, full and new phases like the stages and pages and places and faces we used to be. Following dreams. Now split in two.

Am I half the man I used to be, split in two?
Or was I never quite whole?
Weaker than the sum of my parts, I know.
Not fully in this kitchen, nor swimming in thought of home
Broken hearts in the silence.
Afraid of words that we both might say.

I Am Mine

It was love, maybe, but now they’re all dead anyway.

Why should we care about TS Eliot’s The Waste Land? Two books — by Matthew Hollis and Robert Crawford — mark the centenary of a landmark in literature, one of the most admired and imitated poems ever written Why should we care about TS Eliot’s The Waste Land? Why should we care about TS Eliot’s The Waste Land? The most revolutionary and influential poem of the last 100 years was written by an American banker in the City of London. When TS Eliot published “The Waste Land”, his forbiddingly difficult work in five parts — full of parody, pastiche and allusion — in 1922, Time magazine wondered whether it was a hoax. One London reviewer said of its bewildering modernist techniques: “A grunt would serve equally well.” By contrast, New York’s Dial magazine declared: “The poem is — in spite of its lack of structural unity — simply one triumph after another.” It would be reviled by some but also become one of the most admired and imitated works of literature ever written. Two books celebrating the centenary of “The Waste Land” bring new biographical research to interpretation of Eliot’s achievements and reveal how troubled relationships with women are woven into his enigmatic poetry. Matthew Hollis’s The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem revives the enduring fascination of Eliot’s masterpiece. The second volume of Robert Crawford’s biography, Eliot After The Waste Land, completes the story he began in Young Eliot (2016) and is the first book to draw extensively upon a dramatic cache of letters to Emily Hale that was unsealed in 2020.  Hollis’s starting-point is the 1918 armistice on the western front in a Europe haunted by the ghosts of millions of soldiers and civilians, the wreckage of minds and landscapes, and gripped by the influenza pandemic that ravaged an exhausted postwar world. The opening part of “The Waste Land” is titled “The Burial of the Dead” and carries unmoored speech from those displaced by war. As Hollis shows, Eliot was neither fully in nor out of the war. From London, he tried to join the US military before the end of hostilities but laboured instead for six days a week in Lloyds Bank, a grind he regretted for the hours wasted from his real vocation — literature. In “The Waste Land” the City of London is an uncanny “Unreal City” where office clerks trudge over London Bridge to the rhythm of Dante’s dead entering limbo: “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many.” Among them were servicemen who returned to their peacetime work in the nexus of global finance capitalism numb with trauma. Contemporary readers saw “The Waste Land” as emblematic of the despair of a civilisation but Eliot dismissed its wider significance: it was, he confessed “only the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life”. His chilling recollections located the core of the poem in the “nightmare agony” of his awful marriage. Eliot had been captivated by stylish vivacious Vivien Haigh-Wood. They married only months after meeting. Eliot’s family were incensed by his reckless decision to throw away an academic career at Harvard to settle in London. His father, boss of a St Louis brick manufacturing company, cut him out of his inheritance, placing the newlyweds in economic straits. Hollis conveys an acute “sense of abandonment” that throbs beneath the protective allusive armour of “The Waste Land” in which isolation, loneliness and betrayal are recurrent motifs.  Anxious Eliot — a virgin when he married — was unable to answer Vivien’s emotional needs or decipher signs of her mental instability. Hollis is a scrupulous, perceptive guide to the Eliots’ marital distress, detailing Vivien’s serial flirtations, including an affair with the philosopher Bertrand Russell, the chronic ill health that afflicted them both, as well as the claustrophobia that friends discerned in their domestic circumstances. He deftly draws out the short-term relief Eliot enjoyed holidaying apart from Vivien. The poetry extracted from their shared misery was the bond that connected them. The intractable tangle of their marriage darkens the drafts of “The Waste Land” that Eliot showed to Vivien. Their meticulous biographical readings unpick Eliot’s own impersonal theory of poetry and offer intriguing insights into the man behind the mask “In the Cage” was the draft of part two, a section that recreated their excruciating non-communication. Vivien wrote “WONDERFUL” next to the harrowing passage that announced “My nerves are bad tonight”. “What you get married for if you don’t want children?” was Vivien’s clanging addition to the poem, six fruitless years after their wedding, her fears of hereditary insanity outflanking what Eliot would bitterly recall as his strong desire for progeny. And she insisted on the removal of a cryptic line — “The ivory men make company between us” — which was restored to the poem after her death. Hollis suspects that Vivien found this reference “too painful a portrait of their troubled marriage” since it “hinted at the absence of generational company, of life without children”.  This study also illuminates the crucial role that Ezra Pound, Eliot’s flamboyantly avant-garde friend, played in shaping the final form of “The Waste Land”. Hollis detects “a tide washing from” Pound’s “Cantos”, an experimental poem voiced through dramatic personas, which dislocates metre and rhyme to liberate virtuoso music and a slipstream of striking images. TS Eliot, from left, Virginia Woolf and Vivien Eliot in Sussex, 1932 © Leonard Woolf/Houghton Library He overstates the degree to which Eliot learned from Pound’s poetry (Pound acknowledged Eliot had “modernized himself”) but provides a masterly account from surviving manuscripts — photographed in colour in a Faber centenary edition — of Pound’s revisions. It enhances our understanding of the inspired yet intricate process by which the miscellaneous drafts Eliot described as “a sprawling chaotic poem” were distilled by Pound’s modernist principles into what he called “the justification of the ‘movement’, of our modern experiment, since 1900”.  Hollis combines a poet’s sharp eye for details with a cultural historian’s grasp of atmosphere. He conjures Eliot recuperating beside Lake Geneva following treatment by a psychotherapist who had alleviated his depression, enabling him to complete the poem in a flush of creativity. The famous closing line “Shantih shantih shantih” gestures to the soothing meditative calm of Indic religious rituals. It reminds us that after all the distracting city noises, the postwar collapse of empires and a desperate collage of fragments “shored against my ruins”, the writing of “The Waste Land” brought Eliot temporary peace from suffering, as well as fame and money. The lucrative prize that he received from the Dial magazine matched his annual salary in the City. The richness of Hollis’s analysis is evident on every page although he is little concerned with the polarised responses to the poem. Those controversies are taken up in Robert Crawford’s Eliot After The Waste Land. Crawford was undaunted by the task of digesting a huge amount of recently published material in his attempt to offer a fresh portrait of Eliot after a century of intensive, sometimes intrusive, scrutiny. The terrain of this volume — Eliot’s rescue from the bank by the publishing company Faber and celebrity as a Tory Anglican moralist who championed the cultural unity of Christian Europe — is well-worn ground. Crawford is groundbreaking in three areas: the unravelling of Eliot’s marriage with Vivien, the discipline of Eliot’s religious life and, above all, the light shed by 1,131 letters to Emily Hale (a beloved American he left behind when he came to England) only freed from embargo in 2020. This correspondence charts key developments in Eliot’s tortuous spiritual biography. Crawford argues that each step towards sanctity was a step away from Vivien. In 1927 Eliot’s baptism into the Church of England — abandoning his family’s Unitarianism — ushered in a new life of celibacy. Vivien became increasingly manic: her addiction to prescription drugs led to alarming bouts of paranoia. Eliot dedicated his conversion poem “Ash Wednesday” “To My Wife”, but Crawford claims it sublimated erotic desire for Hale after they rekindled a transatlantic relationship. “Their lovemaking was excitedly epistolary”, he comments archly.  Although he believed divorce was a sacrilege, Eliot departed for an academic year in Harvard in 1932 then failed to return home. A few years later, Vivien was found wandering the streets and committed to a private asylum where she died in 1947. Eliot never did marry Hale, one of several intimate friends blindsided, says Crawford, by Eliot’s “horror of face-to-face emotional confrontations” and deeply hurt by his unexpected marriage to his Faber secretary Valerie Fletcher, 38 years his junior.  Crawford is a fine interpreter of Eliot’s later poetry. “Marina” is the cry of the childless man. “Four Quartets” is a meditation on divine love, striving after a mystical communion with God and “the greatest English-language” poem of the second world war. Despite “hidden personal references”, Crawford thinks that Hale is peripheral to “Four Quartets”. “Emily Hale would have killed the poet in me”, declared Eliot in a statement posthumously released by his estate on the opening of the Hale archive, adding “Vivienne [sic] nearly was the death of me, but she kept the poet alive.”  Crawford and Hollis probe Eliot’s complexities with tact and empathy without turning a blind eye to unpalatable aspects of this twisting character. Their meticulous biographical readings unpick Eliot’s own impersonal theory of poetry and offer intriguing insights into the man behind the mask. Hollis is disturbed by the misogyny and anti-Semitism excised by Pound from the drafts of The Waste Land. And there is an irony in Pound’s editorial altruism striking out from Eliot’s poem a shameful prejudice he shared.  Pound’s fascist and antisemitic wartime radio broadcasts from Rome engineered his imprisonment for treason, followed by years in a Washington institution for the insane, his life’s work, by his own admission, botched. Hollis tells the story of Pound, under fear of armed arrest, asking his wife to bury his copy of “The Waste Land” for safekeeping. It bore Eliot’s personal inscription “for E. P., miglior fabbro”, the better craftsman; the laurel wreath Dante had bestowed on the troubadour Arnaut Daniel.  In old age, Nobel Prize-winner Eliot cabled Pound to reassure his friend he had been “epoch making”. Now that their epoch is over, and their attitudes and prejudices are markedly out of step with many 21st-century readers, the question arises as to why their words matter, why should we care about Eliot or Pound today? After Eliot’s death in 1965, Pound urged people to “READ HIM” having in mind the long poem he helped deliver into the world. So, too, do Hollis and Crawford who, in their different ways, demonstrate the poetic alchemy that transmutes ordinary suffering into scintillating art.

… the poetic alchemy that transmutes ordinary suffering into scintillating art. Ffs. My suffering is not ordinary. My art is not scintillating. But my heart, my love, my heart is yours.

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